Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Stastny garners Blues' focus as free agency opens

By Andrew Allsman| Posted: July 1, 2014| Contact  |

When the free agent period kicks off today at 11 a.m. central time, there will be little doubt as to where the Blues’ focus lies. St. Louis, and general manager Doug Armstrong, will be heavily engaged in addressing one area of their team, the center position. And they will be all in on Paul Stastny.

As many as 15 teams have contacted Stastny’s camp since the start of the new free agency ‘courting’ period, which began last Wednesday. The Blues, who were one of the 15 teams, have made it to the next round of the Stastny sweepstakes as they remain on the center’s list of possible destinations, several reports indicated.

The 28-year old Stastny is coming off of a 60-point season with Colorado, and is in line for a big payday with the team of his choosing in the coming weeks, perhaps day(s). He is widely seen as the League’s most coveted unrestricted free agent to hit the market this offseason.

Of course, Stastny could return to Colorado next season, but talks between the two parties have reportedly gained little traction over the past two weeks, and TVA Sports reported Monday evening that a last-minute effort by Colorado to sign Stastny before Tuesday’s start of free agency did not pan out. The center will test the market and then circle back to the Avalanche. It is then that he will make his long-awaited decision.

That decision could come as early as today, as Stastny and his agent, Matt Keator, have had the past week to examine the options. According to multiple reports, including a report by the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the Stastny camp spent much of Monday shortening the list of teams. The Blues remain on that now-brief list.

Stastny has been on the Blues’ radar for a while now, as the club looks to fill the void of a top center in its lineup. David Backes is currently the Blues’ No. 1 center, but there is little depth down the middle past the team captain. Armstrong brought in unrestricted free agent Derek Roy last season, hoping that Roy could be the Blues’ second-line center, but as the year went on, Roy fell further down in the lineup, and even found himself watching games from the press box down the stretch in important parts of the season.

The club has cut ties with the Roy experiment and will now look for a more ‘for-sure’ answer at the position after falling from the playoff race in the first round for the second-consecutive year.

“I have to sit with the coaches and see if there is a different way to complement this group,” Armstrong said following the season. “We’re going to search the market and see how we can fix our team but we aren’t going to make a knee-jerk reaction.”

It was indicated further by a source from outside the organization on Monday evening that the expectations were that Blues would be trying hard to bring in a "big piece" on Tuesday.

It is rumored that there is doubt in the organization regarding whether or not the club’s core, as-is, can get the job done. Hence the reason the Blues have been so active already this offseason as they try to add the pieces to solidify the group.

What is confirmed, is that Armstrong has been very active in his search for a prized piece. The GM has had to be patient in order to see how free agency panned out this week. The Blues have since found out that there is mutual interest between their club and Stastny, which is why this past weekend’s draft went by without the Blues making a deal with another team.

The Blues would much rather overpay for Stastny and keep their assets than trade for help. However, if they strike out on the Stastny front, they will return to the Jason Spezza sweepstakes. It is just more preferable to the team to land Stastny.

“I haven’t found the team that really wants to give us the 50-goal guy yet,” Armstrong said after the season. “But I know the two or three names they’re going to ask for and that’s robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

But Armstrong also knows he has to add to get to the next level with this club.

“There’s a reason (the Blackhawks) are champions,” Armstrong said. “Now we have to find a way to create that synergy and environment where we have those types of players that get us the goal when we need the goal scored.”

However, those types of players aren’t cheap.

Stastny, who is coming off of a five-year, $33-million contract, will command north of $6 million. And while Armstrong has been extremely cautious with high-priced contracts over the past few offseasons, he has little choice but to pony up this year.

It is believed that the Blues will reach, or be near, the dollar amount Stastny is looking for, but they won’t break the bank, and it is unlikely the club will handcuff themselves by going much past four years when it comes to term.

The Blues have approximately $16 million in cap space after the NHL’s cap ceiling was announced at $69 million for next season. The Blues, who aren’t expected to be a cap-ceiling team, still have forwards Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Sobotka to lock up before their roster is set, which could limit how much they are willing to spend for Stastny.

The Blues could also search the free agent market for a bottom-six forward. The club does have interest in bringing back Steve Ott and perhaps Brenden Morrow, but they could scavenge the market for new faces to add more of a scoring punch in the bottom half of their group.

The Blues, for the most part, are set on defense after acquiring Carl Gunnarsson from Toronto on Saturday, so it is unlikely the club spends too much time looking at defensemen today. Besides, they’ll have most of their focus on the coveted center.